Just after midnight in the early hours of Saturday 15 April, long-distance rider Kristina Rivers cycled into Manly and down to the Life Saving Club, where she was greeted by a warm reception party in the icy rain.
Kristina had just completed an epic, record-breaking ride across Australia, leaving Perth the previous week and crossing the Nullarbor.
“Wow, these people came out in the middle of the night! The time to beat was 13 days, 2 hours, 55 minutes, set by Helen Shelley in 1998.I rolled in at 24 minutes after midnight (AEST) to set a new (to be verified by Guinness World Records) of: 11 days, 8 hours and 6 minutes.
“So many people contributed to making this possible and after some rest I look forward to sharing more about the journey and celebrating with you all.”
Kristina undertook the ride for many reasons, but one was to raise awareness of worldwide reforestation via the One Tree Planted.
Manly Observer met the Balgowlah mum at a celebratory gathering in Brookvale the day after her arrival. Expecting her to be thoroughly fatigued, she was bright and chirpy, despite her epic physical challenge, although she proclaimed, “I’m not getting back on a bicycle for at least a week!”
Kristina’s plan was to leave from Cottesloe, WA, on Sunday, 2 April at 13.30 and arrive in Manly 12 days later, having ridden 3,940 km – that’s about 360 km a day, cycling at least 16 hours a day.
Her website provided links to a tracking app on which followers could record her progress from start to finish.
On the final rain-soaked stretch from Mosman to Manly, several friends joined her on the cycle ride to the finish line, although, as per rules stipulated by world record-monitoring regulators, they had to maintain a distance behind.
These rules also applied to her support driver – husband Nic – who followed her over the entire journey at a safe distance in a mobile home, and was forbidden from giving her a helping push, towing the bicycle, or providing a wind-break from often tumultuous head and sidewinds.
“There were heaps of standards,” Kristina confirmed. “He had to get witnesses and record every stop I took – he has a massive log book!”
Nic Rivers revealed they at first planned the epic trek from East to West, which would have seen them roll into the iconic Cottesloe Beach at journey’s end, instead of Manly, on their home turf.
“I really wanted to leave Sydney,” he said, “because I knew this leg would be psychologically really hard. I was hoping we could get out of NSW and enjoy the Nullarbor.
“However, the weather pattern switched. After three months of easterlies, and then literally just when we were about to go, the wind reversed direction.”
“Because of the cyclone,” Kristina explained.
A category five tropical cyclone, Isla, began forming off the coast of Western Australia around the time Kristina set off from Perth. The gusts generated by the increasing storm front generated westerly tail winds that aided Kristina a little in her relentless pedal forwards, but would have slowed her considerably had she been travelling towards Perth.
Cyclone Isla made landfall in the Kimberley-Pilbara coastal region on the northwest corner of Western Australia, about 1625 km north of Perth, around the same time as Kristina rolled into Manly, 4800 km away.
A record wind speed of 218km/h was recorded on Bedout Island, 24 km offshore, before it thundered inland, flattening buildings in Pardoo but, thankfully, sparing lives.
Kristina didn’t have much in the way of visual stimulation along the majority of her route.
“Ten kilometres from the start, coming out of Perth, until about 40 km from Manly, coming into Sydney, I encountered just three traffic lights in over 3800 km! It is just completely barren landscape.”
So, how did she overcome boredom, lethargy, repetition, those dull flat landscapes, and other mental challenges to achieve her momentous target of almost 4,000 km?
“I had a few tactics,” Kristina revealed. “The main one was having a structured four-hour block plan. So, what I did was four hours riding, four times a day, with a fifteen minute break in between each four-hour block.
“But because of that structure I treated each four-hour ride like its own ride. And most people can ride for four hours…
“One thing I never looked at was distance, like the amount of kilometres I’d covered, I only rode to time.”
She continued, “There was an end result ambition of getting to Manly, but I absolved that; all I thought about was the present four-hour block, treating them like their own individual ride…
“And then, during my break I’d have a quick ten minute sleep, or a massage, or something to eat, before treating the next four hours like a brand new ride. And because of that mindset of focusing just on that four-hour bock, it was manageable. So that’s how I got through each day! I never looked at the farthest horizon…”
Kristina kept an eye on the local weather forecast, but if, for example, the forecast was for rain the following morning, would she undertake an extra four-hour block of cycling the night before, then perhaps rest in the sheltered motorhome for the first four hours of the next day to wait for the worst of the storm to pass?
“One day, it was really hard,” she recalled. “Because there was torrential rain in the morning, a headwind, heaps of traffic coming out of Port Augusta and then there was a hundred kilometre climb.
“So we got to the top of that, and I said, ‘now I’m at least going to be able to descend.’ But the headwind picked up and it was so challenging, like riding into a wall, so we had to fold the day an hour early. But we woke up at 2.30 in the morning instead of 3.30, our normal start time, to try and get that extra hour back, when the wind conditions were better.
“The thing that is most challenging about the elements is wind,” she revealed. “Out there, especially across the Nullarbor region, where there are not a lot of trees, the elements play such a crucial role in your performance. The top one of them is wind.
“I always paid particularly close attention to wind direction, because that dictated how much riding I could get done in a four-hour block. If there was a bit of a tailwind, I could cover easily 100 km in four hours. But if there was a crosswind or a headwind, it might be only 75 km.
“It’s a big difference; and psychologically, having a crosswind or a headwind is so challenging. Because your body is working but it’s like either riding against a wall or being pushed from the side, which means I have to hold the bike steady constantly, especially against the traffic, with the passing road trains.”
Was there any stage of her epic voyage when she considered suspending the exercise – as she had done on a previous occasion (due to muscular cramps and other difficulties)?
“Slightly, yes,” she considered. “There was a time when I questioned what I was doing, why I was out there, around two-thirds of the journey, because there was still so much further to go! But I just kept going.”
She explained, “I used a whole bunch of different tricks to help me out. One of them was connecting into the purpose of why I was there, which was to inspire others. I would imagine those people there with me in spirit, so I wouldn’t feel so alone or isolated.
“Another trick was to embrace what was. So, when things were hard, like coming into Sydney with that trench of rain, I realised I couldn’t change it, so I might as well embrace it because there was no other place I would rather be. That made it a lot less challenging.”
Kristina Rivers: https://kristinarivers.com/
Donate to Kristina’s One Tree Planted chosen charity: https://forest-fundraiser.raisely.com/kristina-rivers